Links We Like and Other Legal Leftovers

, The Am Law Daily

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Given that The Am Law Daily can only cover so much ground during the course of a week, we're back again with our handy digest of stories of interest for those who follow the legal beat and related subjects.

A BIT ORWELLIAN: Bloomberg BusinessWeek recently dubbed Dish Network, which is keeping its corporate lawyers busy this week, "the Meanest Company in America." While the article didn't touch on last fall's incident involving an agitated DISH executive lashing out at the elderly father of a Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner in court, it did note, among other things, that Dish's suburban Denver headquarters is equipped with fingerprint scanners to ensure that employees are at their desks by 9 a.m. Some law firms, it turns out, share Dish's passion for punctuality. Business Insider notes that Canadian firm McCague Borlack, for one, began a finger-swipe policy for staffers last year, while Hogan Lovells has instituted a 9:15 a.m.-or-else initiative in its Shanghai office without the finger scanning, according to a memo obtained by Above the Law.

AIG AND THE GREAT BAILOUT: More than three years after his "vampire squid" takedown of Goldman Sachs, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi takes a look at what he describes as the secrets and lies behind the U.S. financial bailouts of 2008 and 2009. On Wednesday, the board of insurance giant AIG met to decide whether to join a shareholder suit filed by ex–CEO Maurice "Hank" Greenberg against the U.S. government, which doled out $182 billion in federal aid to the company. Debevoise & Plimpton is counseling the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in the litigation, according to news reports, while Greenberg is being represented by Boies, Schiller & Flexner. The firm's famous founding partner, David Boies, defended the suit in an op-ed this week in the USA Today. AIG ultimately chose to pass on joining the litigation, and The Am Law Litigation Daily's Susan Beck wonders whether the government could have done more to shield itself.

BREATHLESS FOR BOIES: In an essay published in this week's issue of New York magazine, depression chronicler Elizabeth Wurtzel—who, 14 years after publishing the best-selling memoir Prozac Nation, graduated from Yale Law School on the way to joining Boies's firm—writes about her harrowing 2012. Along the way, Wurtzel, who left Boies, Schiller last August, offers a concise and withering critique of law firm life. "[M]ost people who think they are practicing law are actually making binders," she writes as part of a broader discussion about what she says is the disappearance of a professional class of academics, attorneys, journalists, and "political thinkers" that have traditionally provided New York City with some social ballast. Wurtzel has more positive things to say about David Boies himself, whom she calls “the smartest person I have ever met.” Above the Law, which has avidly followed Wurtzel's legal career over the past few years, has more on her opus. Also in this week's New York: a feature examining the liberal bonafides of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, which notes his late father's long run at Cahill Gordon & Reindel and the younger Schneiderman's early career at a predecessor firm of K&L Gates.

DEATH ROW DONE WRONG: Adam Liptak, the onetime New York Times in-house lawyer turned U.S. Supreme Court correspondent, reports this week on the high court's rulings in cases involving death row inmates whose lawyers leave something to be desired. Liptak's story notes the plight of Cory Maples, who was granted an extension on life last year when the Supreme Court ruled he couldn't be held responsible for the failure of his former pro bono counsel at Sullivan & Cromwell to meet a key deadline. The Am Law Daily also reported on the S&C attorneys involved in the case, one of whom was promoted to partner at Baker & McKenzie last summer.

M&A KINGS: Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom has regained the top spot among law firm M&A advisers for 2012, according to deal data compiled by Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters. As we've noted several time here over the past few years, each outlet uses its own metrics in compiling its rankings. Up north, Blake, Cassels & Graydon snagged the top spot among Canadian legal advisers, according to Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters. (Click here and here for a list of firms that handled the largest M&A deals in Asia and Europe last year.)

RISE OF THE MINIMERGERS: While legal consultancy Altman Weil announced this week that the volume of law firm mergers remained steady in 2012, with small firms accounting for much of the activity, a trio of Am Law 200 firms have already gone the tie-up route this year. Dickinson Wright picked up 60 lawyers in Phoenix by absorbing a local firmSchiff Hardin added a 10-lawyer energy boutique in Washington, D.C.; and Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker acquired an eight-lawyer firm in Houston. Other recent deals include national employment firm Ford & Harrison's addition of a five-lawyer shop in South Florida; Houston's Beirne, Maysnard & Parsons combining with Louisiana firm Lemle & Kelleher; Syracuse's Bond, Schoeneck & King snapping up a six-lawyer Albany firm; Boston-based Hinckley Allen & Snyder acquiring small Connecticut shop Levy & Droney; and Boston's Rissman Hendricks & Oliverio being absorbed into national IP boutique Novak Druce Connolly Bove + Quigg. Overseas, Baltic firm Varul reopened in Latvia following a merger with an outfit in Riga, according to U.K. publication The Lawyer, which notes that two of Estonia's top firms have also merged. In South Africa, legal giant Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs has expanded into Uganda by adding a local energy firm. Altman Weil principal Ward Bower thinks there's a simple reason for all the activity. He told The Am Law Daily this week that the "safest and surest way to establish a practice in a new location is by acquiring."

PARKING METER MADNESS: The Huffington Post, via The Expired Meter, recently noted that Chicago holds the dubious distinction of having the highest parking meter rates in the nation. Those rates are the result of the municipal government’s December 2008 decision to privatize Chicago's parking meter system in a $1.16 billion deal with Morgan Stanley Infrastructure Partners. As previously reported by The Am Law Daily, Katten Muchin Rosenman advised Chicago on the transaction, which has earned the scorn of Windy City denizens ever since.

SHALE GAS STILL SURGING: Matt Damon’s new film Promised Land is being criticized in some quarters for understating what a boon the hydraulic fracturing boom has been for the U.S. economy. By 2014, shale and oil gas reserves will increase domestic oil production by 25 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Foreign Policy reports that this development will dramatically alter the geopolitical map, as global energy prices fall amid a ramping up of production in such previously untapped regions as the Arctic (despite the potential for tougher U.S. regulations). Sibling publication The National Law Journal notes that with some areas in the country—such as New York State—growing more receptive to fracking, energy law practices are poised to reap the benefits.

POLLING PROMINENT PARTNERS: If the collapse of Dewey & LeBoeuf was the big story of 2012, it makes sense to see what the heads of the legal giant's former competitors make of a year when median billing rates at large firms increased, according to the NLJ, which checked in with several D.C. firm leaders for their early takes on how last year stacks up on the financial front. Fellow sibling publications Texas Lawyer and The Legal Intelligencer surveyed big-firm trends in the Lone Star State and Pennsylvania, respectively, while The Wall Street Journal reports that some firms expect to let go of underperforming partners this year.

REGULATORY BONANZA: The U.S. Department of Justice scored a record $9 billion in corporate settlements in 2012, according to a report this week by sibling publication Corporate Counsel. If the early results from 2013 are any indication, that record might not stand for long. Bank of America and its lawyers from Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz agreed to a $11.6 billion settlement this week with Fannie Mae and its lawyers from Dechert, according to The Am Law Litigation Daily, which notes the deal came the same day that BoA (advised by Williams & Connolly) was part of a 10-bank group agreeing to an $8.5 billion mortgage servicing and foreclosure settlement with U.S. regulators. Last week Goodwin Procter advised Switzerland's oldest private bank Wegelin & Company in connection with its agreement to close after reaching a $74 million settlement on charges it helped American citizens evade U.S. taxes, while Munger, Tolles & Olson, Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, and Washington, D.C.–based litigation boutique Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber advised Swiss-based offshore drilling contractor Transocean on a $1.4 billion settlement with the Justice Department related to its role in the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Lastly, Google's lawyers from antitrust shop Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider, Williams & Connolly, and longtime outside counsel Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati helped the Internet search giant end an antitrust investigation by U.S. regulators, with the company facing neither charges nor fines. (Update: The Am Law Litigation Daily has named a trio of lawyers from those firms as its Litigators of the Week.)

ASIA PACIFIC POWER: Which firms have the strongest presence in Asia? Sibling publication The Asian Lawyer has just produced a complete breakdown. Whether it's the 50 largest U.S. firms, their European competitors in the region, or indigenous and international shops fielding the most robust Oceanic presence, The Asian Lawyer has all that and more, as well as a look at the success of firms like Vinson & Elkins in catering to specific clients. The Asian Lawyer also examines the legal market in places like Australia, China, Japan, and Korea. Meanwhile, Singapore is also emerging as a launching pad for foreign firms seeking a presence in other Asian markets, according to sibling publication The Recorder.

RED CHINA’S RISE: The New York Times has done yeoman’s work delving into the big business ties of China’s somewhat opaque political leadership—and the paper's reporting has had ramifications for some Times reporters working in the country. Now Bloomberg has taken a close look at how the heirs of Chairman Mao Zedong's Communist Party comrades have ridden the country’s economic success to personal riches. Among those scions: the sole grandchild of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who was hired by White & Case before moving on to another firm

A BUMI BUMMER: London-based mining giant Bumi—formed in 2010 when British financier Nathaniel Rothschild's investment firm Vallar bought stakes in Indonesia's first- and fifth-largest coal producers—has agreed to a shareholder vote amid a battle for control of the company between Rothschild and Indonesia's wealthy Bakrie family. Rothschild resigned from Bumi's board in October, a month after the company announced it was investigating possible financial irregularities at an Indonesia subsidiary. British firm Macfarlanes has been hired for an internal probe and Magic Circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer could face scrutiny over its role advising on the $3 billion deal that created Bumi in 2010, according to a recent report by The Lawyer.

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